A Travellerspoint blog

Mr Smith and Mr Pepper

I headed into Birmingham on a grey and drizzly Monday. My first mission was to visit The Diskery in search of some vinyl for Greg. The owner was very disappointed he was unable to fulfil any of the requests, but he did make me a cup of tea! Leaving the boxes of £1 and £2 bargains behind, I headed for the Bullring, a shopping centre Erin and I visited 2 years ago. Debenhams and Selfridges were my destinations, and I happily wandered the floors for an hour or two. Not too many purchases, but I will be back!
On Tuesday I decided it was time to further explore the city, and headed for the Jewellery Quarter. After exiting the station and wandering ever so slowly past the jewellery shops that lined each side of the street, I made my way to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. This fascinating place is on the site of a former jewellery factory, opened in 1899 by Mr Smith and his uncle Mr Pepper. It remained in the family until 1981, latterly run by three of Mr Smith's children. IMG_3439.jpgIn 1981, having been unable to find either a family member or outside buyer willing to take the factory on, the Smiths made the decision to shut up shop. They made the decision on Monday night, told the staff on Tuesday morning, and closed the doors on Friday afternoon. They intended to return to clear out the accumulation of almost 100 years of history, but were unable to bring themselves to do it. IMG_3436.jpg
The building was subsequently sold to the Birmingham City Council, but it was several years before the building was opened and the time capsule of jewellery production uncovered. IMG_3453.jpgIMG_3450.jpgIt was not only the jewellery workings that were discovered; dirty teacups and workers' dustcoats were found where they were left on that Friday afternoon.IMG_3442.jpgIMG_3446.jpg
The tour of the museum was a fascinating insight into the jewellery industry of the day. IMG_3441.jpgIMG_3440.jpgIMG_3445.jpgMr Tom, one of the 3 Smiths who ran the factory prior to its close, was determined to recover every last piece of gold dust shed during the manufacturing process. At the end of every day he would sweep the floors and burn the refuse in the furnace, extracting the gold that remained after all else had burned away. Staff were not allowed to take home their dust coats lest they inadvertently carry the gold dust away; the coats were laundered at the factory where the basins were not connected to the mains. The water was collected and filtered through sawdust, which was then burned in the furnace and the gold extracted. Every tiny speck was valuable.
Smith and Pepper were trade jewellers, so their name was not known outside the wholesale jewellery world, despite being one of the largest jewellery manufacturers in Britain in their day. I'm glad their legacy lives on in the time capsule that is the museum.
Jewellery Quarter visited, it was time for a spot of shopping before heading for home to rest my weary feet. The names of streets such as Ludgate Hill and Newhall Hill are a clue that Birmingham is not always flat!
I had a couple of conversations throughout the day that left me shaking my head. First was my taxi driver who on noting I was going to the station, informed me that trains are the fastest way to get anywhere. Then there was the woman I sat next to outside the cathedral, who said today was the first time in her 77 years on earth that she'd felt the need to sit down! I appreciated her swift dispatching of the young man wanting to share the Christian truth with us - "I'm not interested in truth of any kind today, thank you very much". He was a bit flummoxed, and went on his way.
Tomorrow is shaping up to be a day of domestic chores in preparation for heading to France on Thursday. I expect the next post will come from there, unless doing my washing tomorrow turns out to be far more exciting than I'm expecting it to be!

Posted by apostrophewoman 09:24 Archived in England Comments (4)

Yellow cars and lesser spotted wobble bottoms

Having left Culloden, I made my way towards Drumnadrochit, and Highland Bear Lodge. The only bear in evidence was a stone one, but I did have my first highland cattle sighting!IMG_3321.jpg Thankfully the lodge's website had very detailed directions and I found myself going up the winding drive to be met with a stunning building. IMG_3322.jpg I was greeted warmly by my host Mark, who showed me to the Bonnie Prince Charlie room. The research had paid off again! IMG_2237.jpg It was a beautiful room and I was looking forward to curling up in the four poster bed. IMG_2234.jpgI needed to be at Inverness Airport early in the morning, so we arranged my breakfast for 6:45 and i retired to my chamber for the evening. The alarm went off all too soon and I was very sad to leave the lodge behind. 90_IMG_2245.jpg90_IMG_2236.jpg
To be honest, the flight to Birmingham was the first part of this trip I hadn't been eagerly anticipating. I am no real fan of flying, so being on a smaller plane was not on my wish list. I don't need to see propellers, thanks very much. Thankfully it was a relatively smooth and short flight, and I found myself landing at Birmingham before too long. 90_IMG_2975.jpg
Chris had kindly offered to pick me up at the airport. Now, some of you will have experienced my mildly amazing super power: the ability to be chronically on time. Chris took this to a whole new level! He and Liz live very close to the airport, and he was watching my flight's progress on the airport website. When he saw the aircraft was on approach, he jumped in the car, drove the few miles to the airport, and made his way to the arrivals hall. I walked through the door 30 seconds later!
On our last visit Erin and I were initiated into the yellow car game. This activity has the potential to turn a seemingly restful drive into an anxiety producing nightmare. It's pretty straightforward: see a yellow vehicle, hit someone else in the car! I had anticipated that there would be no easing me in, so I was ready and waiting. Let the games begin! Having received a few hits from the eagle-eyed Chris, I spied my first yellow car and struck...unfortunately I was wearing my sunglasses and had to admit it was actually green. Penalty for a false hit: two returns! It's been 2 years since my last visit, and my reflexes are no quicker than they were then. I was, and remain, rubbish at this game!
Steven was going on a sponsored 10 mile walk in the Malvern Hills on Sunday, and we planned to join in for a part of the way, weather permitting. Despite hearing rain during the night, the day dawned bright and sunny, so we drove about an hour to meet up with the walkers. To be fair, we knew the car park was opposite a pub and thought a quick stroll followed by a refreshing beverage might be the order of the day. Sadly, we needed to move to a different car park, so that cunning plan was foiled.
There's a clue in the location as to the type of walking involved here. We had researched it the night before and noted the trail would take us up Worcestershire Beacon, the highest point of the Malverns. To be honest, I wasn't expecting to make it particularly far as hills are not my friends! Liz very kindly stayed with me as the others went on ahead and we made it almost to the top! The views were ok, I guess, if you like seeing England's green and pleasant land in all its glory! 90_IMG_2981.jpgIMG_2982


Having determined we were happy with how far we'd come, we sat on a bench to drink in the beauty. We watched two birds wheeling around on the thermals and Liz impressed me with her ornithological knowledge: "Oh yes, I believe that's the seldom seen lesser spotted wobble bottom". Call me crazy, but I think she was having a lend of me.
Feeling very chuffed with our achievements, we headed home to rendezvous with Cynthia and Vincent, Chris's mum and dad. My grandfather was the only member of his family to emigrate, and there are an abundance of Weltons here. Vincent is my dad's cousin, and the Welton genes run strong in him. In fact, he says that when he first saw a photo of my dad in his youth he thought he was looking at himself. It's always a joy to catch up with them and this time was no different. I've yet again been welcomed so warmly by this branch of the family and I feel very lucky, bruises from the yellow car game notwithstanding! IMG_2264.jpgIMG_2268.jpgIMG_2272.jpg

Posted by apostrophewoman 00:10 Comments (2)

Blood and tears on Culloden Moor

Having watched the sunrise from the ferry, we arrived in the port of Scrabster at 8:00. Time to head south towards Inverness, but not before a visit to the most northerly point of the British mainland. It's a common misconception that the honour(!) of that title rests with nearby John o'Groats, but it is in fact at Dunnet Head. There's not a lot to see, but the lighthouse was gleaming in the sunshine and I strolled the cliff top to gaze at the blue of the water far below. IMG_2207.jpgIMG_2213.jpg
Back in the Fiat, I headed off with a vague plan to be at Culloden by late morning. That should leave me time to briefly explore Inverness before finding Highland Bear Lodge where I would find a bed of the four poster variety waiting for my final night in Scotland. It was only 120 miles away, so it should be a doddle, right?

There are more than a few flaws in that thinking, but let me highlight two. First, don't forget that's miles we're talking about. Let that sink in. It's not the same as Calder Park to Bendigo. I know this, but that doesn't mean that knowledge easily rises to the surface when making calculations. It lurks in the background like some great lurking thing that, well, lurks, and refuses to show itself. Second, a 60 mph speed limit does not mean you can drive 120 miles in two hours. I have driven in the UK enough to know this, but there's that lurker again. Factor in slow moving traffic (with little opportunity to overtake); oodles of little towns where you need to slow to 30; winding coast roads where your high tech Fiat keeps telling you to shift down a gear; and the worst problem of all: improbably picturesque scenery that keeps calling you off the beaten track. IMG_2216.jpgIMG_2206.jpg
As you might have guessed, I didn't make it by late morning. In the scheme of things, no big deal.

Having not studied British history at school, my understanding of the events at Culloden was sketchy. I knew, though, that this was one of the defining moments in Scottish history, and I didn't want to miss the opportunity to visit, even if that meant missing some of what Inverness had to offer. For anyone whose knowledge is as lacking as mine, here are a few facts to paint a picture for you.

Since the 1630s Britain had suffered political and religious upheaval. Civil war was a constant fear as Scotland, Ireland and England struggled to find a way to live and prosper together. On 16 April 1746, on Drummossie Moor overlooking Inverness, a well supplied Hanoverian army led by the Duke of Cumberland (son of King George II) annihilated the much smaller army of Lord John Murray and the leader he mistrusted, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, so called pretender to the throne.

This was the bloodiest of all the Jacobite battles.

Bombarded by cannon shot and mortar bombs, the Jacobite clans held back, waiting for the order to attack. At last they moved forwards, through hail, smoke, murderous gunfire and grapeshot. Around eighty paces from their enemy they started to fire their muskets and charged. Some fought ferociously. Others never reached their goal. The government troops had finally worked out bayonet tactics to challenge the dreaded Highland charge and broadsword. The Jacobites lost momentum, wavered, then fled.IMG_2227.jpg

Hardly an hour had passed between the first shots and the final flight of the Prince's army. Charles Edward Stuart’s choice of rough, marshy ground was catastrophic, and the Jacobite swords and daggers were no match for the Hanoverian cannon and guns. More than a thousand Jacobites were killed and around 300 Hanoverians died. The battle itself was over in an hour. The bloody aftermath went on for weeks. http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandshistory/jacobitesenlightenmentclearances/culloden/

I moved first through the Visitor Centre, which includes an extraordinary immersive film experience where you stand surrounded on all sides by enormous screens showing a re-enactment of the battle. After passing through exhibits of found objects and examples of weaponry, I made my way outside with an audio guide to accompany my walk around the battlefield. What I wasn't prepared for was that my walk would also see me weep. I don't know if it was because having seen the film I was more easily able to imagine the horror of that hour. Perhaps it was that sense that has been reported as "an eternal sadness rising from the grass". I know I'm not alone in feeling that this patch of ground speaks loudly of the pain and terror of that day. And so I wept my way around the moor.IMG_2224.jpg

Posted by apostrophewoman 01:49 Tagged scotland history culloden Comments (6)

Mainly about leaving Mainland for the mainland

I decided to take a circuitous route to Stromness, my point of departure from the treasure that is Orkney.IMG_2200.jpg No point in rushing, as I couldn't board the ferry for my overnight accommodation until 9:30 pm! Even taking the long cut I was there by early afternoon. The town itself is such a contrast to Kirkwall.IMG_3280.jpg The ferry port dominates the town, but just a street back from the water is a higgledy-piggledy collection of shops and dwellings. The street itself is decidedly narrow, especially when you are driving and there are parked cars and pedestrians to contend with! IMG_3287.jpg
I bought some lunch and headed out of town to find a nice picnic spot. I ended up at a very picturesque location, certainly the best sited cemetery I've ever visited! IMG_3195.jpg Lunch over, I wandered down to the beach and continued enjoying the unexpected sunshine. I may even have caught 40 winks.
Returning to Stromness I decided to do some forward scouting of the boarding process, given it would be dark at that time and my recent record with ferries and the dark wasn't good. All seemed straightforward, so I headed to a cafe nearby for tea and a scone with added wifi. IMG_3266.jpgWhen they closed I moved to the pub next door and settled in with pear cider and wifi! Disappointingly i was too early for the live music due later that night, but I was entertained by a spot of people-watching.
Finally it came time to board, and I was surprised at how few passengers there were. The ferry departs at 6:30 am, but it's possible to stay on board the night before, at a very reasonable price for bed and breakfast. I'd guess there were around 12 of us taking advantage of that offer, and we were escorted onto the boat and given our cabin details. I was pleasantly surprised at the cabin amenities, both size and fitout, and particularly impressed with the Shetland wool rugs that adorned each berth in my cabin.IMG_3310.jpg Included in the package were vouchers for drinks in Magnus Lounge, which I ended up giving to some fellow Australians who I'd met in the queue for boarding. I'd already had a rather large cider and was quite relaxed enough, thank you.
I returned to the cabin, tucked myself in, and slept decidedly well. I'm still waking up early, so I was up and dressed before we departed and headed for breakfast. As it turns out, that wasn't the best of ideas. Let's just say that a) the crossing was not as smooth as I might have hoped, and b) I was very glad to have some privacy in my cabin. Anyway, enough about that!
IMG_2169.jpg Orkney is a remarkable place, and I am already dreaming of my next visit. I stayed on Mainland this time, but I'd love to explore further afield and discover the other islands, especially the delightfully named Papa Westray!

Posted by apostrophewoman 17:00 Archived in Scotland Comments (2)

5000 years in an afternoon

I need to start this post by saying there will come a point where I will be expressing smugness. This will involve smugness of the highest order, smugness that may lead me to be called Smuggy McSmuggerson of Smugtown. You'll know when we get there.
First though, it's back into my trusty Fiat and off for a leisurely drive, stopping at whichever picturesque location piqued my interest. The Geos was my first stop, went for a ramble, saw some cows. IMG_1993.jpgIMG_1999.jpgOnward to The Gloup, more rambling, back in the car, encountered the most traffic I've seen and actually had to use the passing places on the one track roads for the first time. When I say traffic, don't be misled. I mean one or two cars and a tractor. 90_IMG_2011.jpg
Having availed myself of 21st century technology with a Skype call home, it was time for one of the most significant things about Orkney that has drawn me here. I know, you thought it was all about the jewellery, right?
Some 5,000 years ago, the prehistoric people of the Orkney Islands began building extraordinary monuments out of stone. There are four Heart of Neolithic Orkney sites, and i visited three of them today. Together they are said to represent one of the richest surviving Neolithic landscapes in Western Europe.

First up were The Stones of Stenness. The circle and henge is a very early example of this type of monument, and the surviving stones are enormous, standing up to 6 metres tall. They're just beside the road. The farmer next door wakes up to them every morning. I wandered in among them with only two others. I'm still shaking my head at their accessibility. IMG_2029.jpg

It was then onto the Ring of Brodgar, which is a great stone circle 130 metres across. IMG_2040.jpgIt's set in a natural amphitheatre of stones and lochs. I'd initially wondered if I should go on a tour to see all these sites but decided I'd rather do it at my own pace. BEST DECISION EVER. I arrived at the Ring just as a couple were leaving. Yet again, I could walk among the stones unhindered. 90_IMG_2047.jpgFor about 10 minutes I had the place to myself. 90_IMG_2046.jpgIMG_2049.jpgI found myself standing where people stood 5000 years ago. I don't know what the original purpose of the ring was, but I know it's eerie, and beautiful, and remarkable.

Can i just say again I had the place to myself? Imagine being at Stonehenge by yourself, standing next to the stones, touching them. It wouldn't happen there, but here there is an ease about the way these extraordinary sites are shared. Oh, and I didn't have to pay for the privilege. When I saw a coach arriving I was almost around the circle, so I decided it was time to leave before my peace was shattered. I strolled off in another direction to allow the interlopers their collective time. Having ventured off the beaten track for a few moments, I returned to my car as the stragglers were climbing aboard the bus. This was the definition of a whistlestop tour; they barely had time to get off the bus before they had to return to it. I on the other hand, had all the time in the world.

The final destination on my journey into the past was Skara Brae, a domestic settlement hidden by sand until it was uncovered during a great storm in 1850. Leaving the visitors' centre, I wandered a pathway punctuated at intervals by stone plaques noting important historical events. As a result of having been covered by sand for so long the settlement is incredibly well-preserved. There are 8 buildings joined by low passageways. 90_IMG_2093.jpg The walls are still standing, and the alleyways are roofed with their original stone slabs. IMG_2097.jpgTo say it's mind boggling ranks with the biggest understatements of all time. Looking down into the houses you get an amazing glimpse of life in Neolithic Orkney, seeing beds and dressers and hearths. IMG_2091.jpg
As I'd approached I saw a lone figure standing atop one of the buildings. It was the guide, who was happy to answer any questions I had, but equally happy to allow me to wander at my leisure. On my own. No- one else in sight. Cue the return of smug.
We talked for a while, and she pointed out the resident seal frolicking in the water. That was my second wildlife sighting of the day, the first having been a lone grouse scuttling away from the edge of the road. She asked where I was heading next, and I responded "the Brough of Birsay". Her advice was to make sure I knew about the tides, lest I end up front page news. The Brough is an uninhabited tidal island with access restricted to a few hours each day either side of low tide. At those times you can walk across the causeway; miscalculate the tides and you can find yourself stranded and in need of rescue by the coast guard or face a long wait until the tide recedes again. The girl at Skara Brae had an idea worthy of a pitch to Dragons' Den: provide a treasure map for those unfortunate or dim witted folk who think they can outsmart the tides. It will give them something to do while they wait, and can lead them to a stash of food to sustain them until help arrives. Smart thinking! IMG_2101.jpg
I got the timing of the tides right, but by this time it was blowing a gale and I'd been out in the weather long enough. I walked across the causeway, because I could, but decided against exploring too much further. 90_IMG_2112.jpgThe path past the causeway was rocky and my shoes weren't up to the task. I didn't want to find myself stranded not by the tides but by a broken ankle. Some of you know my history in that area! 90_IMG_2116.jpg
My foray into the distant past complete, I headed for home and the prospect of a warm bath followed by an episode of The Great British Bake Off. The Lynnfield Hotel has been a joy to visit, but it's time to move on. For my last day in Orkney a last visit to the shops in Kirkwall is on the agenda, and then it's on to Stromness overnight before heading back towards Inverness.
By the way, did I mention I was the only person at the Ring of Brodgar and Skara Brae?

Posted by apostrophewoman 17:00 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

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